“I had no idea how little men respect women until I became one…..”

I read two articles in The Times newspaper on Friday 28 August 2015 which illustrate a common challenge for business leaders, and link back to the main reason why we established The Diversity & Innovation Company.

“I had no idea how little men respect women until I became one” is the title of an article about Kellie Maloney, formerly Frank, on being a heterosexual woman, after her transgender transition. Before her transition Kellie was Frank Maloney the boxing promoter, most notable for managing Lennox Lewis to the title of undisputed heavyweight championship of the world in 1999. Kellie gives a fascinating insight into her life now compared to her previous life.

While Frank has had to literally put himself in Kellie’s shoes to gain a true insight into what it is like to be a woman in today’s world, there are impactful ways for business leaders to develop empathy – to meaningfully put yourself into the shoes of another – and thereby be more sensitive to the needs of women in the business world.

The second article - ‘Covert’ everyday sexism can damage women’s health - reported the finding by business academics at the University of Melbourne that everyday sexism may be taking a much heavier toll on women than previously thought, i.e. the grind of “covert” sexism in the workplace is just as bad for women as sexual coercion by their bosses or unwanted advances from colleagues. They reached this finding after analysing 88 studies involving 74,000 women.

The academics commented “our results suggest that organisations should have zero tolerance for low-intensity sexism the same way they do for overt harassment. This will require teaching workers about the harmful nature of low-intensity sexist events, not only for women but also for the overall organisational climate. The promotion of civilised interactions among colleagues is essential.”

Both of these articles reflect the need for male business leaders to have much greater understanding of the needs of women in the workplace. However, lecturing men about what not to do or requiring them to undergo unconscious bias training are often perceived as companies taking a punitive approach to achieving progress for women in the workplace. In contrast The Diversity & Innovation Company’s leadership development training creates a positive pull towards diversity by developing much greater self-awareness and empathy for others through our immersive experiences.

We set up The Diversity & Innovation Company after our founder attended his first International Women’s Day event at the age of 48 and found himself to be one of 3 men in a room of 600 women. This sparked the idea of broadening leaders’ diversity of thought through immersive experiences.

Our immersion experiences are designed to give business leaders deep insights into their own thinking, and how to develop empathy for people who are different. It is the immersion that makes the difference in terms of the impact. If enlightened CEOs grasp the nettle now and provide deep immersive experiences for their graduate entrants and high potential future Executives – experiences that really broaden their thinking about how to empathise with others - then we stand a fighting chance of creating sustainable diversity all the way up to the Boardroom – and driving better business returns.



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